Recent Commonplace Entries


“Dr. Evans, also a leading collector of African-American art, acquired the bulk of the Douglass collection in the 1980s from a dealer. He described his historic house in Savannah as so crammed with an estimated 100,000 rare books and manuscripts that even his wife never entered some rooms.” (from report in NYT, July 4)

“We had the vaqueros, the cowboys, who came in and out of the village. On Saturday evenings, my dad would take out a guitar, and somebody would bring beer, and my dad would sing some of the old New Mexico songs. All of that crawled into my DNA.” (Rudolf Anaya, from his NYT obituary, July 5)

“He wrote a good deal about philosophy and philosophers, but was himself possessed of very little in the way of philosophical sophistication. The result was that he tended to reduce the subjects of his work to simplified and rather vaguely impressionistic sketches. There is a definite intellectual laziness in his evaluations of the topics he discusses. Many of his essays, consequently, turn out to be little more substantial than senior common room chatter or an after-dinner talk delivered to an aldermen’s association over the port and cheese.” (David Bentley Hart on Isaiah Berlin, in letter in TLS, June 26)

“This was the context for the secret state’s continued interference in the lives of others, at least half a million of them, of whom only a handful were ever shown to be involved in illegal or treasonous activities – and most of these were sitting at desks in MI5 and MI6. More absurdly, only about twenty thousand were actually members of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and their chief occupation seemed to be libelling each other. Like Auden’s poets, they made ‘nothing happen’ in a society for whom dialectical materialism was far less engaging than Dixon of Dock Green, Ealing comedies, the Cup Final, the conquest of Everest, rain-free shopping arcades, John Betjeman, Margot Fonteyn, new schools, employment, immigration. In the international communist movement, the British party was a laughing stock, correctly assumed to be so thoroughly penetrated that it was virtually a branch of the Security Service.” (Frances Stonor Saunders, from Stuck on the Flypaper, in London Review of Books, April 9, 2015)

“The Kingfish and his group introduced the idea that every ‘player’ is playing not one game, but three: the international game; the United States versus the Soviets versus France versus Britain versus all the other nations of the world sitting around a set of Chinese checkers board; the domestic game: Republicans versus Democrats, or Conservatives versus Labor, or one Communist faction versus another; and a personal game, in which each man advances his own interests.” (from Miles Copeland’s The Real Spy World, p 58)

“It is well known that some of Britain’s most influential labor leaders are Communist Party members whose objective is not so much to better the lot of workers as to bring down the system, but the nature of British Government is such that it is unable to accept this fact of life as a basis for policy.”  (from Miles Copeland’s The Real Spy World, p 234)


“In the United States, many immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean or Asia develop a shared sense of race and grow acutely aware of the role of race in America, a country where it is part of the daily conversation.” (Norimitsu Onishi, in NYT, July 15)

“If, as Doris Lessing was later to claim, Earls Court was jumping, Bexhill, like large swathes of the country, seemed to be in a sort of dormitory coma, as though John Wyndham’s triffids had just passed through and stunned the population. No sound was heard, except the tomatoes liquefying on the vine or the chickens adjusting their snooze positions in the straw.” (David Hare, in The Blue Touch Paper, p 28)

“In future epidemics the first thing that should be done is to lock up the predictive modelers.” (Alex Donaldson, former head of the Pirbright Laboratory of the Institute for Animal Health, quoted in NYT, July 20)


“Anglo-American dinghy realities – deindustrialization, low-wage work, underemployment, hyper-incarceration and enfeebled or exclusionary health systems – have long been evident. Nevertheless, the moral, political and material squalor of two of the wealthiest and most powerful societies in history still comes as a shock to some.” (Pankaj Mishra in London Review of Books, July 16)

“Perhaps more important than the effect this crisis has had on ministers is that it has strengthened the view of the cadre of Whitehall high-flyers that change is needed, that the civil service can’t just go on congratulating itself on being a Rolls-Royce machine.” (James Forsyth in the Spectator, July 4)


“As for Bevin’s character, Adonis’s contention that he had ceased to be working class by the time he came into government because of how he dressed and where he lived is like suggesting that the Marquis of Bath ceased to be an aristocrat when he donned a kaftan and moved into a cottage on his vast estate.” (Alan Johnson in review of Andrew Adonis’s Ernest Bevin: Labour’s Churchill, in the Spectator, July 4)

“The worst thing that a subordinate can do is question orders and be proved right.” (historian Michael Peszke, in The Polish Underground Army, p 174, quoted by Lynne Olson in Last Hope Island, p 397)

“Oh, he’s very gracious. Of course, he’d kill me if he could. But, still, very gracious.” (Jan Masaryk, on returning from Moscow after a summons by Stalin in 1947, quoted by Lynne Olson in Last Hope Island, p 458. Masaryk was killed in March 1948.)

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